Cambodia exported nearly 1.031 million tonnes of cassava in either fresh, dried, powder or pulp/residue form in the first three months of 2023, of which nearly three-quarters went to Thailand, according to agriculture ministry data, as local reports suggest that prices for the tubers in Battambang are up 20-30 per cent year-on-year.

Broken down by category, exports in fresh, dried, powder or pulp/residue form respectively amounted to 822,728 tonnes, 155,210 tonnes, 14,701.3 tonnes and 38,252 tonnes.

Thailand accounted for the most at 754,300 tonnes, or 73.2 per cent of the total, followed by Vietnam (261,210 tonnes; 25.34%) and China (15,322 tonnes; 1.49%), with other markets such as Japan, Italy and India taking in smaller amounts.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries did not provide year-on-year comparison figures. However, the Ministry of Commerce did report a 28.50 per cent jump in exports of “manioc (cassava) and manioc starch” on an annual basis, to $285.052 million in the January-March period, from $221.837 million in the same time last year.

These commerce ministry numbers do not appear to include cassava pulp/residues, however.

By comparison, provisional Customs (GDCE) data show that exports of “edible vegetables and certain roots and tubers” – corresponding to Chapter 07 of the Harmonised System (HS) – came to $285.784 million in the January-March quarter, up 30.43 per cent year-on-year from $219.103 million, up 325.8 per cent half-on-half from $67.11 million and up 250.9 per cent quarter-on-quarter from $81.45 million.

These GDCE figures do not include cassava powder (starch, flour and others) or cassava pulp/residues, which instead fall under the “milling products, malt, starches, inlin, wheat gluten” and “residues, wastes of food industry, animal fodder” categories, respectively equivalent to chapters 11 and 23 of the HS.

Battambang provincial Department of Commerce director Kim Hout told The Post on May 7 that cassava exports and prices improved in early 2023 compared to 2022, and affirmed that further increases are foreseen.

He indicated that the average per-kilogramme price for dried cassava in Battambang province over the first quarter was to the tune of 967 riel or 8.2 baht ($0.24), up from 793 riel or 6.5 baht in the January-March period, while the same for fresh cassava was 389 riel or 3.3 baht, up from 305 riel or 2.5 baht in the year-ago period.

Hout is confident that cassava cultivation and exports will remain on a positive growth trajectory for the time being, propped up by the government’s designation of the South American native woody shrub as a priority cash crop, along with public and private supporting projects, and value chain improvements.

He shared that about 80 per cent of cassava grown in the provinces bordering Thailand is exported to the neighbouring country.

Cambodia also has the “National Policy on Cassava 2020-2025” in its toolbox, which primarily aims to make the Kingdom a premier producer and preferred supplier of the root vegetable and derived products to domestic and international markets.

The national policy is guided by three main objectives: to shift production from subsistence levels to market-oriented systems; attract investment to and otherwise support value-added processing; and foster linkages among relevant export sectors, increases in trade competitiveness, and higher penetration into overseas markets.

Additionally, a major surge in cassava exports is expected after the Cambodia Safety Vegetable Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (CSVUAC) on March 11 inked a deal with Chinese-owned Global Ecological Rice (Cambodia) Co Ltd to ship 500,000 tonnes of sliced dried cassava each year to China, with Battambang chosen as a base of operations.

At the signing ceremony, CSVUAC chairman Chua Makara hailed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) as the “fruitful result” of negotiations and as representative of the common interest of Cambodian farmers.

“We’re both willing to work together and enhance direct Cambodian agricultural exports to China. This will also contribute to maintaining stability, securing profits for all parties, and especially ensuring the stability of agricultural markets for farmers,” he said.

Global Ecological Rice Cambodia boss Zhai Muqi recounted that the positive results of a survey on cassava varieties and cultivation sites in Cambodia conducted by his firm in collaboration with a tropical research institute in China’s Guangxi region – most likely the Guangxi Subtropical Crops Research Institute (GSCRI) – received the green light from Beijing to proceed with the deal.

Agriculture ministry undersecretary of state Pak Samay Sunit, who presided over the ceremony, expressed confidence that the MoU would provide significant boosts to local cassava production and export, the financial security of farmers, and the broader agricultural sector.

“Large companies investing in Cambodia means that growth in agricultural production will usher in a better understanding of the value of one’s own produce, and that it has a market,” he said.

According to commerce minister Pan Sorasak, cassava contributes an estimated three-to-four per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) each year. Using Statista’s $28.33-billion estimate of 2022 nominal GDP, this would amount to somewhere between $849.75 million and $1.134 billion last year, accounting for rounding.

Agriculture ministry statistics show that Cambodia exported 3.230 million tonnes of cassava in either fresh, dried, powder or pulp/residue form in January-November 2022. The “dried” category made up the most at 1.817 million tonnes, followed by fresh (1.332 million tonnes), powder (57,067 tonnes) and pulp/residue (24,100.39 tonnes).